Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Memories

Last Sunday we had our Choir Christmas Program. I am the music director and Brandon is the choir director so we were in charge of coming up with said program. We themed it "Christmas Memories" A few people from various ages from primary kids to grandmas  took turns sharing their special Christmas traditions, a favorite gift, or what Christmas was like when they were a kid. These were intermingled with musical numbers. It turned out really great, as they always miraculously do,  and I was reminded how much I enjoyed hearing about how other people celebrate this joyous holiday. I decided to come home and free associate my own:

We always had different people living in my home from  year to year, relatives or exchange students or whatever. Also my mom's health wasn't too stable and neither was my parents financial situation  so our Christmases were a little different each year depending on the situation. Some things were for sure: a fire in the fireplace, roasted pine nuts, and lots of people.
My first Christmas memory was my brother and I running up the steep stairs of our little brick Tudor style house and seeing the Christmas tree with 2 dolls under it--a Raggedy Ann and a Raggedy Andy.
We always bought a real tree from a tree lot and decorated it with a mishmash of decorations from things we had made in school or at church over the years. The coolest part were the lights. We had bubble lights that I've never seen on anyone else's tree before or since. They had a bulb at the bottom and a glass stem filled with red, yellow, or green liquid. When the lights were plugged in, bubbles would flow up the glass stem--like a little lava lamp. They were quite mesmerizing to look at and after they had been on for awhile they were warm to hold. We didn't have a lot of presents under the tree beforehand so it was extra spectacular to wake up on Christmas morning and see what seemed like such a huge pile there. Some years there would be unwrapped stuffed animals on top of the presents for each of us and I really loved getting those. We weren't allowed to open presents until after everyone had eaten breakfast which was usually oatmeal (sometimes my mom made it festive by putting red food coloring in it and cinnamon flavor) We were allowed to go through our stockings, though, and those were always the best part. We always got an orange, sometimes a watch,  a ring or necklace for the girls, and tons of gourmet candy. Secretly, I wished I could just get some regular Hersheys or Hubba Bubba instead of Belgian truffles but my parents owned a gourmet chocolate store and were therefore chocolate snobs. Nothing less than Cadbury was allowed in our house. For a joke one time my brother and I bought the largest box of cheap grocery store chocolates we could find. We thought we were so funny. When my mom opened it she tried to act pleased until we let her in on our joke. The most memorable stocking stuffer I got was when I was a teenager. I opened an envelope to find 2 tickets to see Yo-Yo-Ma in concert at Symphony Hall.

We usually drew names in our family. My siblings were all quite a bit older than me so most of them had families of their own. If my brother Allen had your name you were in for a real treat because he always went way over budget and always got something from his work, Nordstroms. I got a really nice warm pink coat from him one year. But my favorite was when I was eight. My parents opened the front door and there on our porch was a brand new yellow banana seat bike--my first bike ever!
Every year Allen brought a bunch of nice outfits from--you guessed it--Nordstroms. The ladies in the family would go hog wild with excitement picking out dresses and sometimes fighting over them. When he married his second wife--who worked in the cosmetic department--makeup and perfumes were added to the loot.
I worked really hard one year in 5th grade to make a present for everybody in my family.  I put together a book of "holiday poems" that I wrote, complete with illustrations, on colored paper. With the $10 to my name I bought a 24-pack of drinks and gave one with each of my poem packets. I gave one to my teacher too. Like Ralphie presenting the fruit basket to his teacher, I thought I had given the best present ever!!

A couple of Christmases my mom was in the hospital. She had a few health problems. I was around 16 during one of these. My mom was not able to do the Christmas shopping so my Dad took me to the mall and gave me $100 with the charge to buy everyone's present. I was the youngest and my siblings all lived far away with families of their own except for my oldest sister. She moved back home after a divorce and I mostly grew up with her around and her four kids who were just barely younger than me. I remember going to ZCMI and finding a little $10 gift in the clearance section for each person with the money my dad gave me. I really felt at the time that it was a tender mercy that ZCMI had that clearance sale.  One of those gifts I remember was a little glass nativity set.

A couple of years we were were the "sub for santa" family of our neighborhood. Those were the most exciting Christmases of all because we got way nicer gifts than we were used to! We opened the door one Christmas Eve to find our porch heaped with beautiful packages. I got my first cabbage patch doll from that experience. He was a boy with curly brown hair and his name was Lester. I would have preferred a girl but I was so elated just to have any cabbage patch doll at all. Another Christmas when I was very young we opened the door to find a box with a very exquisitely handcrafted doll inside just for me!

Usually, for Christmas we were allowed to pick out one $25 gift.  My mom was solely in charge of all the Christmas festivities.  She made things fun and exciting. We attended lots of Christmas concerts, the festival of trees, and any other event that was happening in town. My mom was maybe not the most organized person. She hid gifts throughout the year somewhere in her dank closet which I never dared go in. Sometimes she couldn't find a present and she would use her favorite cuss word, "Oh spit, where is that present for so and so?!"  One year, when I was a teenager, all the presents were gone under the tree and I still hadn't opened one. When my mom realized this she said, "Oh spit. Somebody find something for Lar."  She ended up pulling a tiny package out from the back of the tree. It was a watch that I had wanted earlier that year at the State Fair. I was grateful that I wasn't totally forgotten.

When I was really young we had a Christmas Eve party with my Dad's only brother and his family. We had a big potluck dinner. My mom always made her famous fudge. When it was at our house, Santa would show up. What was awesome was that even the adults had to sit on Santa's lap. Everyone got a unique present. I think my mom helped him by gathering stuff all throughout the year.When it was at my uncle's house in Provo we had a white elephant gift exchange. I still remember the laughs that Uncle Terry's gift brought--a used toilet seat. The drive home from Provo felt like an eternity to me when I was young. I remember looking up into the night sky on Christmas eve and being sure that I saw the lights from Santa's sleigh twinkling in the sky.
 A couple of years probably the ones when my mom was sick we had to eat Christmas dinner at a restaurant. It was a real challenge to find a restaurant that was open on Christmas day. My brothers ended up getting some takeout from Alberto's Mexican Restaurant on 33rd south in Salt Lake.
My dad loved Christmas. It was the only time of year that I really saw him in a lighthearted mood. When I was newly married my Dad had a stroke just before Christmas and was in the hospital recovering during the whole holiday. We went with my sister and her kids and sang Christmas songs to him. Christmas music was his favorite and our singing made him a little emotional.

Now that I have my own little family we are creating our own memories and traditions. One of those is to read "The Night Before Christmas." So, with that said, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!!